Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the meat and the messiah

— sacrifice/d — sometimes with a prayer

— defined by others (i.e. often passive recipients of the category)

— unnatural arc, so who would make this stuff up?

— untimely demise — averting being wrinkled, old, or unlovely

— they die so that we may live, or some dumb-ass thing like that (literally)

— frequently male, for some ungodly reason — but that's okay with me.

— post-mortem rave reviews (in both senses of the word)

— etc. etc. etc.

This is what I get for reading Gershom Scholem's Sabbatei Sevi: The Mystical Messiah at the same time as reading edible brooklyn: the good meat issue. The parallels have been uncanny.

The human need to torture others in order to be sated cannot be underestimated.

On another note, tangentially related, I have not had a single good (vegetarian) meal in New York yet this trip so far, except for the home-made meals my precious daughter improvised here on the 'urban pioneer' edge of Brooklyn. And we've gone to some old standards and promising nifty places. Even New Orleans chefs have been way more creative than these in the accommodate-the-goddamned-vegetarian department.

Rant, rant. And not a rave in sight.

Monday, March 28, 2011

a kaddish for the disappearing islands

This book caught my attention today and I couldn't put it down. Plunked down my little piece of plastic and carried the irresistible treasure back to Brooklyn.

It's called:

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will
by Judith Schalansky. Translated from the German by Christine Lo.

Beautifully illustrated with a topo map of each island on the right, and a blurb about the spot on the left — this book gives us the author's dreamscape — lands exotic, remote and unattainable, stripped of their political affiliation, roads and nationhood. They are bits of land as they might have appeared to explorers a thousand years ago or more. Except that they were a hell of a lot bigger then.

But rather than being remote and unattainable — islands I have never set foot on and never will — a number of them are classics in the anthropological literature or well known for their roles in world history. Tikopia, for example. Easter Island. Iwo Jima. Feet have trampled them. And stepping on them has been significant to global politics as well as to human understanding.

Schalansky's book is wistful and romantic. Bound in such a way as to look like a vintage find at the flea market. Bound to appeal when we've just climbed out of a bustling overcrowded subway, and walked into a bookshop to escape the sea of humanity scurrying like rats across New York City sidewalks. The book is nothing, if not calming. Almost sepia in its effect on our consciousness (but choosing a light sea blue instead). It presents itself as an antidote to whatever it is we're needing to escape at the moment.

To tell the truth, I'm not an island person. I'm not at all lulled by gorgeous calderas surrounded by and slipping into the sea at an alarming rate. I don't care how white the sand or clear the water, this is a book of fifty islands that I, too, have never set foot on and never will.

I bought the book because these islands are slipping into oblivion through rising sea waters, and some of them are almost gone — and the author doesn't really 'go' there. Once they thrived, and were key points in trade routes. Once they were essential stepping stones to creatures in their crossing of the seas. I just keep wondering where their populations will go when their bit of sand slips under the sea.

Sometimes I want to be a disappearing island. Sometimes I want to be a landmark that endures. Sometimes my dial is set somewhere in the middle. Hoping at least my children think of me a bit after I am gone.

Topography shifts.

I mean, that's just how it is, right? Should we hold romantic notions for what has slipped away? Cling to the memory? Work hard to save endangered places? Or should we draw new maps and celebrate what is or what will be?

Should we mark our graves or send up human dust into the wind? Or does it matter?

I mourn my dead, and grieve my dying. And feel sometimes unbearable loss for what will disappear. I support ecological programs that try to stave off disappearing shorelines. And dream of stepping foot on delicate islands before their time is up. I mourn — but I'm just not sure that mourning is a very useful sentiment. Or if the task of the living is just to be alive.

I vacillate between acceptance, outrage, and forbearance. Used to think being pro-active was what it was all about. Now, I think of unintended consequences of our best intentions.

Should I act? Or should I watch and see?

And if I act — will I place my imprint on the future? And will that bring more harm instead of good? Sometimes I'm caught inside this push-pull of every single action. Sometimes I charge forth without a thought. Sometimes I hide and wait for history to find me.

And history finds me, just as sure as it finds you — and those disappearing islands.

That's the strangest part. I step back inside my indecision — and someone steps forward and takes action in my place. And the topography of these terribly remote islands — they too are replaced by something somewhere else.

Do we act to preserve what's familiar and before us? Or accept that oceans rise and we're the cause? Do we step up to meet the challenge of our actions? And can we love our fellow humans despite our fatal flaws?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

walks like an angel...

She must be another goddamned angel. I just figured that out. Doing all those angel things they do. She comes in exactly the right form that makes me snap to attention. The words flow out of her — she's an enchantress. She puts me on the path and hold me to it.

"How's this," she says, whip in hand. "Are you paying attention yet?" but this latter part she speaks with her eyes. She doesn't always need the words. She has some other pretty nifty forms of communication.

I don't do angels.

Everybody knows that.

But goddamn. They seem to do me pretty well.

So. So what if we treated everyone —everyone— as if. As if, I say — as if they were these angels in our lives? I mean the real mccoy angels, not those winged things in old masters' paintings. Those angels are just, well, boring. Boring, I say! And trite. Don't forget trite.

No. The real angels, they club you over the head and make you pay attention. They grab you, they shake you, they make love to you until you cry out for mercy — And then: They turn your world upside down.

It's in their contract. They can do opera if you need opera. But they don't have to.

And what do you do when you meet an angel? You. The recipient of such an off world cosmic gift?

You snap to attention. You — You suddenly know what you have to do, and have the courage to do it.

You wake up — even if you don't see the light.

This angel walks into a bar—

Okay, no. It wasn't a bar. (That was a joke, lame, I know, but I just couldn't help it. Pathetic, really).

So. This angel walks in — and the first thing that happens is — you don't notice anything at all.

It's not like they want to draw a lot of attention to themselves. Actually, scratch that, actually they can be pretty damned flashy. Performers. Number 3 on the Enneagram: they can manifest anything and show you. Number 8 on the Enneagram: They can push you around pretty good. Whatever you need — they'll do that.

And so what are they there for? They're there to give you a shove. A pàtch in the tuchus, a wake-up call, a warning bell. Get your ass in gear, they say. And so, you wake up, and you see them. And they let you see them.

And then—
And then—
And then— they smile.

And you fall.
And you rise.

Do not confuse the messenger with the message. It is the nature of angels to be ephemeral. They have a short attention span and a long list of other people and creatures to do. They are not loyal (not to you, anyway). It's nothing personal. They just can't help themselves. It's the angelic imperative. And they figure that if they just keep dazzling you you won't get pissed about it, or better still you won't notice, till they're gone. And when you do finally pull yourself together, they are indeed gone. Remember: nothing personal.

If you had been listening more carefully you would have heard the fine print in the contract. But you weren't listening. You were standing there with your mouth hanging open, enthralled. Which is what they expect you to do. Like vampires, they have glamour. They enchant. But let's stay on topic here.

So. This angel. This angel walks through my door.

And what do I do?

Anthropologist, remember?

I take notes.

Goddamned angel can't hurt me, right? No, no. That's the wrong attitude. Let's do the analysis. Classify it under "spirit hypothesis" — one of the more ridiculous categories in the anthropology of consciousness. But that's what anthropologists do with it. Call it an 'emic' category. Whew. That's so much safer!

The angel laughs.

And then she lunges —

Sunday, March 20, 2011

in the market for —


nope, sorry

can't think of a thing

just had a visit that reminded me that I'm fine, just fine —
and that everything's okay, everything's in place — everything's —
how can I describe it?

I'm immersed in gratitude even for the crazy stuff, the serendipity,
the synchronicity,
the resonance
the residence

spending today just in awe of my great good fortune
before it passes me by —

but because of the 'evil eye'
I really should be complaining
a lot
about my own misfortune

to keep me safe

that's what we do
we sephardim

so here's one for the evil eye:

"woe is me"

does that sound sincere enough?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ellegua at the crossroads, baby

Standing at the crossroads waiting for the light to change. Permission, really, is what we seek. Although we don't think of it that way. That's what Ellegua's about: letting us pass. Or not. When we're standing at our own pedestrian crosswalk we assume that permission. That it's just a question of when we get to go. We never seem to question the if. Is that an American sense of self-entitlement — or is it merely human?

But the larger the crossroads, the more we have to consider the if. Should we cross that line?

At what point can I change direction?

At what point am I freed to change direction?

At what point do I change direction?

They're not the same.

M said no. And he's a psychiatrist!

People like stagnation. Okay, he didn't say it quite like that. He used the word 'comfort' — people stay because things are familiar. Because what's already there is known, and that's a form of comfort.

I think I screamed. And I'm not a screamer.

I think I said I'd rather slit my throat than go on and on and on knowing every word I'd ever say, every word I'd ever hear. That 'comfort' was stifling. That there were no surprises any more.

"People don't leave for that reason," he said, reasonably.

They leave because of abuse.

Sorry, that's not true. Often, people stay — despite the abuse.

But here, there was no abuse.

He's a very good man. He's always been a very good man. He's still a very good man.

I left because I was at the crossroads.

What else can you do? A force larger than my self compelled me across the terrifying abyss into the unknown. How could I have known what was coming? And what did I find on the other side?


Was it a shock? No, not at all. I just wasn't expecting it quite so fast, although I'd been waiting my whole life. And doing nothing about it. Very passive indeed.

Stepping to the other side was a new kind of comfort — the inevitable one.

We find ourselves facing Ellegua. Sometimes kicking and screaming. Sometimes welcoming, with wonder and not fear. Did I ever say thank you? I'm not quite sure.

But I'm saying thank you now. A little late, I know.

Did I ever not say thank you?

The vista opens. Here's another crossroads, baby.

Something's there that I can't see.

"Instead of trying binoculars, baby — close your eyes and trust that you're with me."

Wonder School or Fear School, baby.

So. Okay.

I'm at the crossroads — though I don't know where it leads. You stand behind me. You give me a little push. You guide me. I take a step — eyes closed, with heart wide open — into the unknown.

To Ellegua, with love and gratitude. Wonder School, baby, here I come.

But I'm still gonna question it. Every step along the way.

That's just what we atheists do, baby.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

on being oya to your chango

Yah, I wanna be Oya to your Chango. No domestic tranquility for me. I was cursed, to tell the truth, so that's how it would be. I think it's worked out pretty well, to tell the truth. And yah, he actually used that word 'curse' — a little dramatic, don't you think? What kind of moron curses in this day and age?

So. I'll be your Oya. We'll have our adventure. We'll ride off and conquer death together. Conquer grief together. You'll raise your battle horn and give a blast. Shofar, the way shofar was meant to be! But at the end of the day, you'll go home. Oshun, with her irresistible smile, awaits you. She'll ground you. She'll hold down the fort for you.

I figured the whole thing out recently. Was trying to explain my worldview, somehow. Not the worldview that I'd like to have. No. The cosmology in which I seem to operate.

I think it was that comment, "Too bad you don't like opera..." that helped me figure it out. See how useful our mothers are? No. I don't want to live inside the opera. It's absolutely true. Opera belongs on the stage, right?

So what kind of hypocrite am I?

A. F. C. Wallace wrote this wonderful article about time. It's published in a fairly recent issue of AOC — Anthropology of Consciousness. Last five years, maybe ten. I don't know, I can't hold on to time. Time-slipping. That's another piece of the puzzle. Wallace talks about three kinds of time.

Linear time: in which events are placed sequentially, and then we call it history. We count in days and months and years. Decades, centuries, millenia. The point is that we count. We keep track. This happened. And then that happened. This is the least interesting of the three, although it does point out that there are consequences to our actions. That's not a bad thing at all. But it makes it sound like this thing led to that thing — if we string the things out just so — and that might not be what's really going on at all. We might have left out a string or two or three in our analysis.

Cyclical time: in which it's never over. In which we have another chance to try it out again. If this cycle doesn't work out so well, hell, we'll just reincarnate, and it'll be better next time. And then we don't have to worry about death so much. Next time, next time — as if there is a next time. As if there are do-overs. As if we get a second chance or third. As if only the truly 'evolved' (spiritually speaking) will get a chance to be released. Then, and only then, are we okay with death.

And then there's:

Mythical time: in which the gods are ever-present. And so is id, ego, and superego. These things do not recycle, and they're not linear, evolving from child to adult; from magical to rational. That's long ago been demonstrated to be absolute nonsense. Mythic time is ever-present. The capricious pantheon of gods — whether Sumerian or Egyptian or Greek or Ugaritic, or the mythic time of the Songhay empire — are archetypic patterns that we play out. We look to the gods and see ourselves. In all our folly, and in our glory too.

Bachofen says that the struggle between the gods takes on a dialectical form. Can we call it dialectical mythology? First, he says, in the earliest myths, the female deities held sway. Goddesses reigned supreme. And in their hubris, they abused their power. The males rose up and conquered them. Gods! And eventually, one god supreme. And when that god becomes so tyrannical that they can no longer stand it, women will rise up, and the goddesses will return. Right.

Bachofen says mythology hands us the pattern. He doesn't say it's historically accurate. He says we carry it all ourselves. Each of us — until we discover our collectivity and rise up — and become gods.

Okay. That's not what he says, that last part. But I like it.

I've inhabited mythic time and space my whole life. I feel more comfortable there.

Teish came over one time. Voodoo queen extraordinaire. Priestess. Dancer. Storyteller... We were working on a project together. She walked into the house. Intake of breath. She walked into my bedroom. Seeing with her expert eye.

"Oya," she said.

It's not the first time I've heard that. Bibbo says it too. Candomblé practitioner from Brazil. He's told me this for years.

Oya, they agree, is the orisha of my head.

There's no Oshun for me.

That. That right there. That was the curse.

Well, fine. I can live with it.

Apparently, my entire house is 'done up' as an altar to Oya. Tribute to her. Her colors. Most of all, her feeling. A place she is at home in.

This does not at all match my mother's description of my home. Early Istanbul whorehouse, is what she calls it. Bordello. Brothel. But my mom, she likes opera. Whereas Teish — well, Teish is just stating the facts. Right?

I don't think I'm as brave as Oya. I don't think I take charge. I don't do battle, that I know for sure. I'm not a goddess of radical transformation. So what the hell are they talking about? But when they say these things, I can feel Oya's heartbeat inside my own. Maybe I don't understand bravery and battle. She's not a man, after all. Maybe Oya's bravery is something else entirely. Maybe I've got it. Maybe I don't.

Maybe Oya takes chances. Maybe Oya says yes, where others would say no. Maybe Oya leaps where others tiptoe.

And maybe Oya is only Oya when she meets her own Chango.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

picturing devastation: japan's 8.9 on the richter scale

I was thinking about Tunisia when Egypt happened. Thinking about Egypt and Tunisia when Yemen and Bahrain started to unravel. Thinking about Yemen and Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia, when Libya grabbed my attention. I was still desperately seeking more news on the little country that 'started it all.' Tunisia holds a special place in my heart, after all. When Japan happened. Which isn't to say that anything else in the world isn't still happening. There's collective bargaining down the drain in Wisconsin, and that too is a devastation that will spread like a virus and infect us all. Of all that has happened of late, that's the one that likely touches me personally more than any of the others, but —

The photographs started pouring in. Tahrir Square mobilized. Very moving. Qaddafi yet again made to look like a fool, which he isn't. Just upsetting. Mohamed Bouazizi's mother speaking out against tyranny. Even more moving and upsetting.

But I didn't cry.

And as a pessimist (who also studies the Middle East), I have few illusions that structural change in the 'democratic' direction will come to characterize the region as a whole. Ibn Khaldun, Wittfogel, and others have taught me that rulers (what we call dictators these days) have some advantages over the democratic process in nations where tribal affiliation still holds sway.

Point is, I've been paying attention. But I've also been stuck here in my distanced analytical brain.

Pictures, like music, bypass our rationality. They hit us in the gut. They hit us in the heart. All before we know that we've been hit. For this reason I prefer nice distant, rational photographs that remind us of perspective. The one above, for example, from Sendai, Japan — shown in the New York Times. You don't have to feel much at all, except the beauty of the planet giving a little stretch after a nap. Or stretch marks on a pregnant woman's expanding belly, making room for a growing child. Beautiful. Yes I called it that. But then there are all the pictures of human devastation. Mountains of detritus of the products of man. Houses crashed over each other, splinters of urban life lying there in the photo, like ten million pieces of pick-up sticks waiting for the game to begin. Knowing we will pick up all those sticks, but we still won't win.

There are some amazing photos out there of the 8.9 earthquake in Japan. Shipwrecks among housing wrecks. Car wrecks out there in the ocean. Human faces crumbling or facing terrible loss. Photos that capture the shock of it all. And one of those photos got to me. Finally. It hit me hard. And I've been staring at these photos, glued to them, examining every corner of them, not looking for anything I can put my finger on. But this one, this one — and it's not even a great cinematic photo. Just maybe a shapshot, really. But it hit me with tsunami force.

It's this little photo, with nothing much there to see. Two parents who've been searching for their daughter — and just found her. She's barely visible, still in her car. Just a wisp of her hair, a quarter of her face. That's all you see of her. And her parents are looking at her — not emoting for the camera. Her mother reaches out to touch her hair. This is a private devastation, caught in a quiet landscape of post-earthquake and post-tsunami Japan.

And it just broke me up. It got to me.

I much prefer the stretch marks view of natural disaster. The aren't-we-humans-stupid view of where we build our cities (not to mention our nuclear plants). But truth to tell, there are no safe places to hide from 'mother' nature. There are no corners of the globe that guarantee safe little lives free from a planetary yawn. Still, the view from afar — the these-things-are-natural — equanimity vastly contrasts with how we might feel about devastation of our own making. Middle Eastern wars, nuclear accidents, holocausts and inquisitions. We shake our heads or get engaged. We take sides. We get adamant.

We can't even blame global warming on this one. No one to blame really, but surely we'll find a way. It's so human to seek out culpability. So reassuring, somehow. Like maybe it'll keep us safe and sound. No war here, we can say. Nothing to worry about. We live in a peaceful part of the globe. And I live in beautiful ... San Francisco. What a safe haven from the political woes of the world. No earthquakes here, right? I mean, we're not due for another ten years, easy. What great building codes we have, right? ("What big teeth, you have, grandmother" said Little Red Riding Hood to the wolf). We see what we want to see — until the truth slams us hard awake.

Just like Sendai.

Just like that couple staring into that twisted iron that used to be a car. Staring into a young girl's face, a girl who used to be their daughter. Finding her that way. No, stuff like that — I just can't take.

Retreat. Retreat! As far back as I can. Can I make this not personal? I'm not sure that I can. But those parents just lost their child. How is that not personal?

A kaddish for all those who mourn the devastation that surrounds them. A kaddish, one daughter at a time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

speak now or forever hold your leash

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area plans to greatly restrict the areas in which we and our pups can walk freely — unleashed in paradise. If we do not take collection action, this restriction of our freedom and the freedom of our four-legged friends will be diminished by the fall, 2011. Many of you know how much Fort Funston means to me — perhaps you feel the same. Perhaps you've never considered the matter. Perhaps it's time for you to come out to the cliffs and experience the unique freedom that Fort Funston still offers.

Here's a copy of my comments to the GGNRA, focusing on what I think might be concerns they might think worthy of consideration. My thoughts about beauty and freedom I kept out of my remarks.

March 10, 2011 01:39 PM Mountain Time
Park: Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Project: Dog Management Draft Plan/DEIS
Document: GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan / Environmental Impact Statement Park:


Please consider the importance of the following points before considering the drastic measures in your drafted proposal.

1. The Health of our Elders: Fort Funston and other off-leash areas in the Bay Area has become a haven for older people to walk their dogs, socialize with other seniors, and form a community that makes their lives more fulfilling. The vitality of this community will be greatly diminished if your proposal goes into effect. People look out for each other and their pups. There is virtually no discord among the regular dog walkers. Their health and vitality is greatly increased as a result. If anything, off-leash dog walking ought to be encouraged, especially for seniors, as a way to lead more healthy and fulfilling lives.

2. The Health of our Canine Friends: Dogs, especially in the City, absolutely need a place to playfully engage with each other and enhance their socialization skills. Dogs on leash are more aggressive than those off leash. On leash dogs cannot run, catch, play, scamper, visit each other in a healthy canine manner. They become frustrated; they bark; they have no way to expend the vast amount of energy that they generate. As a result of your proposed plan, dogs in the city and likely in suburban areas as well, are much more likely to be less than model citizens. Again, as above, older people (perhaps more than any other people) will be affected adversely by living with pups who no longer are calm, sated, attentive and well behaved. Older people simply cannot walk long enough to give their canine friends their due!

3. The Health of the Environment: Bringing (of all things) more horses onto the trails of Fort Funston, brings with it a population with a horrific sense of entitlement - and no sense of responsibility. The regular dog walkers of Ft Funston clean up after their animals not only on a daily basis but also on a monthly clean-up. Those who bring their horses up to Ft Funston 1) do not stay on the horse trails, 2) frequently do not know how to ride a horse, and have little control of their animals, 3) never clean up after their horses, and 4) leave trails more heavily eroded, more covered with manure, vermin and flies. Turning our trails into 'Horse Trails' makes both the official trails and the adjacent areas unfit, unsafe, and unsanitary for human walkers (with or without dogs). The horse riders have been by far the most inconsiderate and destructive population at Ft Funston. I urge you to reconsider this proposal. I agree that setting standards and procedures for use of public spaces is important. But the drastic expansion of banned areas for off-leash walkers is punitive for the vast majority of citizens who use, love, respect, and protect these wondrous outdoor spaces. The unintended consequences of your proposal to both human and canine members of the community cannot be underestimated.

Comment ID: 466402-38106/1203

Comments on the Fort Funston maps of proposed alternative plans.

Please consider that all but one of the GGNRA alternate plans for Fort Funston discriminate against seniors walking the trails.

MAP 16: This proposal is the second most restrictive of those proposed. It is punitive to seniors in particular, who cannot navigate easily or regularly up anddown the steep cliffs to the designated off-leash area below.

MAP 16A: The Voice Control alternative is by far the most reasonable and responsible of your plans. It makes it clear to all that open spaces are open only to those who have taken care to train their dogs as good neighbors and citizens. This plan is fair, even handed, and a good reminder that humans on the trails should always have their dogs under voice control.

MAP 16E: This plan is a poor second plan choice to 16A. Its advantage is that it allows a contiguous area for walkers. However, because of its reduced area, it is likely to be eroded quickly through over use. My greater concern is that this plan also discriminates against those seniors who cannot navigate the steep, deep sandy trails of the prescribed areas.

Of your plans, if changed must be made, Map 16A is a compromise alternative that is viable and fair to all. It is also the only plan that will work well for seniors. Please take seriously the detrimental effects the more severe restrictions will have on the health and welfare of seniors who have so long diligently and reverentially cared for Fort Funston.

Thank you for your serious reconsideration on these restrictions at Fort Funston.

Comment ID: 466407-38106/1205

Monday, March 7, 2011

rudolf steiner in seven-part harmony

"It's your seven-year cycle," she said. "You're coming up on the next seven, so that's why you feel that something's about to change."

And I thought, well what a load of crap.

And then I thought about it. And then I started reading. And then I thought about it some more.

I always liked Rudolf Steiner, actually. Thought about sending my kids to Waldorf School and all that. Picking mushrooms, skipping through the forest, planting veggies, learning things at your own pace. No TV and electronics. No plastic toys — just wooden ones. Free to color as you please. Opposite of Montessori control freak schools in absolutely every way. But I also realized that that's what I wanted to do — it wasn't necessarily what my kids needed to be doing.

What I didn't realize was that Steiner was into Western astrology when he came up with his seven year cycles model. Okay. Interesting. I'm not terribly impressed, to tell the truth. I'll have to ask my astrology friends and get their expert opinions. My problem with how Steiner uses astrology in this regard is where he stops.

He stops on my next birthday (which is coming up fast) and calls it Mercury Retrograde, calls it the Crossroads, and says the cycle completes itself and starts all over again. Well, no way. That's where I part ways with Rudolf Steiner.

Crossroads, okay. I'm okay with crossroads. That I can do, especially right now. I've been feeling rather crossroadsy of late, to tell the truth.

But start all over? Just because his imagination just ran out and he's got nothing more to say? Hell no. Sure, I'll give him credit for focusing on the younger years. After all, those great schools are based in part on his theory of seven year cycles. And sure, I'll give him a break: when he was writing not that many people were living as long as folks live nowadays. So, if his stages started getting a little sketchy, who can really blame him.

Erik Erikson in my opinion did a much better job than Steiner in the life-stages department. He formulated each stage in terms of challenges that must be met. And if you screw up the first one (easy to do in my opinion), it affects the next. And mess up what follows — i.e. not have a successful resolution of the stage's key conflict — then eventually, you end up with a snowball effect as your life just gets more and more off track. That very first stage of Erikson is pivotal: trust vs mistrust. I'm afraid I never quite mastered that one as well as I'd have liked. Or maybe I mastered it very well indeed. Who knows? I guess Papa Erikson knows. Wish I'd asked him all my queries when I had the chance. Instead, I just stared up at him with teddy bear fantasies. He was such a sweetie pie, who wouldn't want to curl up with him at night? (So unlike grumpy Bettelheim, whom I also adored. And when they taught together, well wow. Like being in the presence of God and the Devil at the same time, and they're saying the same thing — but you don't know who to believe ...)

Steiner's not really like either of them. He had more Goethe in him. Animism. And even astrology. Spirituality of the life cycle — and the soil. A lot like A.D. Gordon, for that matter. But it's just a little too much of that soul-stuff that does me in. I'm not really against the notion of a 'sentient soul' or 'intellectual soul' or 'higher mind' — I just don't think these terms are that helpful.

At any rate, Steiner's cycles are just not helpful past his 'Saturn Return' pronouncement. So I thought I'd try my hand at it. Erikson did well with the later stages, but I don't think he's influencing me too much here. He's so much more gracious than I will ever be, no matter how many stage conflicts I ever manage to successfully navigate.

So. With apologies to Rudolf Steiner, here are my versions of the stages that the great man relegated to do-over:

Age: 56-63 The Soul of Menial Labor

In this stage, the Crossroads, you discover that you've worked your ass off for more cycles than you'd like to count. You've got repetitive motion injuries. You've corrected the same mistakes on the same kinds of university student papers for more years than you'd like to remember. Instead of 'inner tranquility and acceptance' you've decided that yes! You've reached the Crossroads, and you just can't take much more of this.

Age: 63-70 The Soul of Gimme Shelter

This is the Take-this-Job-and-Shove-It stage. Unless you're a psychoanalyst or a conductor (music, not trains). But if you've got any job where you've been doing and saying the same thing over and over and haven't had a new thought in years, it's in this stage when the choice of blowing your brains out vies with an ever narrowing number of options. One thing that's going to have to be solved is not having enough in your tax sheltered annuities to last you into your infirmity years. Of course, following Erikson, if you do navigate this one successfully, you probably owe it less to your psychological well-being, than to your worker's union, which has not yet lost its collective bargaining rights. Thank them with a big fat donation.

Age: 70-77 The Reflective Soul

Far from the more conventional 'unconditional love' stage, here you've reached Bean Counting, in which (since you didn't do this two or three cycles earlier), you seriously consider whether or not you can afford to live much longer. In this age, it's a good idea to watch 'Soylent Green' over and over again — especially the part where Edward G. Robinson gets to have the best Pastoral Symphony death possible for being a good boy and turning himself in to the death wardens. (Hope I didn't just ruin the movie for you. After all, I didn't just tell you the ending, which is that Soylent Green is people. Everybody already knows that). Steiner's idea that after 70, all that's left is 'Reflection' is just plain crap. Because:

Age: 77-84 The Put-Up or Shut-Up Soul

I'm pushing Erikson's 'Generativity vs Stagnation' up a bit. I've seen some pretty prolific folk in this stage. There's energy for one last burst of creativity, even though almost every part of your body hurts at this point. Still, the voice is holding out, the music is flowing, and so is the pen (not that anyone uses a pen today). Creative juices: if you're gonna say it at all, now's the time — it's now or most likely it's not gonna happen at all. So, I guess I'm in agreement with those who say that at this stage, the 'doors of perception' are open. Finish the bleeping novel, already.

Age: 84-91 The Losing-my-Mind Soul

This stage used to be the age of Philosophy, but not anymore. Maybe it's the environment. The air, the food, the water — something. But there's a whole lot more dementia around than there used to be. Then again, there are a whole lot more folks in Cycle 12 than there used to be, so maybe that's all it is. Public radio and TV stations are raking in the zillions by offering Brain Boosting programs for people who donate lots to support their stations. 'Tis the season for brain yoga, with the goal of making 84-91 feel like anything but. Of course, the losing-my-mind syndrome at this point might also be attributed to the particular cocktail of meds being dished up five times a day, that's gotta be messing with brain cells aplenty.

Age: 91-98 The Soul of Someone Else's Problem

When still cogent, this is the age of the Elder. You've ceased being just old enough to be a constant worry to anyone who cares — to being genuinely adored and admired. After all, while your time may be almost up, your descendants also appreciate that you're passing on some pretty great genetic stuff to them, with regards to longevity, and they're terribly grateful. Thus, they're also willing to listen to your stories, type them up, film you spouting your words of wisdom, and (if you haven't done so already) they're willing to write down every word you have to say. They'll also put it all online for you, and help set up your blog. Your job: Make stuff up. Your past is pre-internet, so anything could have happened. And since you don't care anymore, but they do — have fun with it.

Age: 98-105 The Good Run for my Money Soul

For now, at least, this is about as far as I'm willing to commit to. Next year, maybe the number of cycles will double, or treble. Who knows? This is the age of Legacy. Since there is no more financial legacy left, you become the living legacy. A legend in your own time. By this time, you likely believe all the stuff you made up in the last cycle, and so reverence is indeed yours. For a day or two a year. Maybe on Mother's Day or maybe on your birthday. You really have had a good run for your money — but the money's likely long gone (along with Social Security and your Long Term Care Insurance company that went broke three cycles earlier). Call it Saturn Return if you like — I'm okay with it now. But that's just my own limited imagination. Still, it's worth a bit of gratitude — if your mind's still intact and the money's not all gone. If your kids are still alive, and you've lived a full aeon.

Maybe it's that when Rudolf Steiner was my age, he had only one more year to live. Maybe that's why he never really developed these later stages. But I do know he had a good idea about how to live the cycles we are given. Out there in nature picking mushrooms. Back in the garden growing edible beauty. Up on the cliffs and out on the trails. Standing at the Crossroads — without a pile of papers to grade ...

Friday, March 4, 2011

well, your railroad gate

Everybody knows about the railroad gate now, of course, but nobody knew about it then.

N and I had built an altar when the album finally arrived. It had taken well over six months by boat to get to Jerusalem and then through customs — and I'd ordered it before it was released in June of 1966. Well now it was spring, 1967, and we'd been waiting all that time for the thing to arrive.

We lit candles. We reverently ingested some of Owsley's finest, and waited patiently before we put the needle down on that precious vinyl. N played a little on his guitar for a while as prelude. And when we were ready, the needle went down.

And then, the moment.

I don't think we moved at all except for turning the records over. It was a double album! And I don't think we breathed at all until we heard that fateful line:

Well, your railroad gate, y'know I just can't jump it ...

We both jumped when we heard it. We knew that gate.

We grabbed our cameras and headed up the hill that divided Jerusalem at the time. The plan was to photograph the train as it headed right through Bob Dylan's gate.

Right. Pretty stupid, I know.

A man was running up the hill after us screaming in Hebrew, "No, no, it's forbidden! STOP!"

Like, right, we were gonna stop.

"If you don't get away from there," he threatened us, "I'm going to call the Police." Pretty over the top, don't you think?

We could see he had a uniform on, so we thought well, maybe we should at least respond. But the uniform turned out to be for the gas station he worked at the bottom of the hill. So of course we blew him off. Besides, we could hear the train coming. N got out his camera and snapped away.

And when we turned to head down hill, sure enough the cops were there and we were arrested.

"Give us your film," the cops demanded.

We were being arrested for taking pictures of Bob Dylan's railroad gate.

I mean, even Owsley couldn't have conjured that one up, right? The film in that camera was becoming more precious by the minute. No way we were giving it up.

We were brought to the director of the program we were studying at.

"Give the police your camera," the director said, not expecting much.

I remember that we giggled, but I could be wrong.

Turned out we weren't under arrest. Yet. Turned out these cops didn't have the authority to arrest us. They were just cops.

No, apparently what was needed was Mossad, or the military police. Something like that.

So they brought us outside in front of our Institute to wait for the paddy wagon to arrive. But by then we were starting to get the munchies. N complained loudly about missing lunch.

The cops bought us some ice cream on a stick. Vanilla on the inside. Chocolate on the outside. Which just makes you thirsty. Torture.

At that point I remembered that I had my camera with me too.

"Can I take pictures of us getting arrested?" Chutzpah, right? But I was so polite.

Nobody thought that seemed strange for some reason. The cops started posing. They put us in the cop car, back seat, front seat, me on the walkie-talkie, eating ice cream. Yah. Big smile, everybody. And then the paddy wagon arrived.

They threw us in the back, and we waved the cops goodbye. And off we went. There were tall stone walls and a huge gate which swung open as our wagon arrived. And those big iron gates closed behind us, with sentries on either side. It looked like an old British fort (not that I'd ever seen an old British fort. I was 18 at the time, and had never seen much of anything).

Inside the stone walls was a huge field, with lots of military and jeep-like vehicles. Everything looked like the color of dust. They drove us to the far end of the field, stopped, and took us out. They grabbed each of us by the arm and brought us into a dank building. Pushed the button and the light for the stairs came on, but it was still pretty dark in there. We climbed up a flight or two of stairs. Stumbling. And they brought us into this room.

There really was just one lightbulb hanging down above a wooden desk. There really was a captain or agent (or whatever they're called) sitting behind that desk with a piece of paper in front of him. And there were two chairs on the other side of the desk. With his eyes he commanded us to sit. We sat. Sentries stayed at the door.

The captain looked at N and barked at him.


Instantly, N handed over his camera.

The captain opened the back and slowly pulled all the film out in a long dark strip, exposing and ruining it all. He handed the camera back to N. And looked at each of us with furrowed brows, scowling.

"WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE," he boomed.

And then he leaning back in his chair.

"And that's why I'm going to tell you this," he said, and paused for emphasis.


And then he proceeded to tell us that the gas station guy wasn't really a gas station guy. And that the gas station wasn't really just a gas station. And that the hill wasn't really a hill, and the railroad gate.... Right, you get the idea.

He told us that munitions were not allowed in Jerusalem at that time, but that they were going to be needed. And so — inevitably — it turned out that N had photographed the hidden munitions at the border between the two Jerusalems. Oops.

But he knew who we were. A couple of American teenagers studying abroad, whose families checked out, I suppose. And so, we were given a ride out of the fort and back to our Institute, and made it in time for dinner.

We played the song again.

Well, I been in jail when all my mail showed
That a man can't give his address out to bad company
And now I stand here lookin' at your yellow railroad
In the ruins of your balcony
Wond'ring where are you tonight, sweet Marie...

And we'd been there. And I've got the photos to prove it. And then came the war that changed everything...

But not before I got picked up by the military police. Again.

In the meantime, N and I went back to our altar, lit more candles, and played Side 4 — but that's another story...